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A kaleidoscope of autumnal colour

  13/09/2013 at 13:04 pm

Having had the good fortune of living and working within the New Forest, this is where I discovered the true beauty of autumnal leaf colour at Exbury gardens. Exbury is an 81ha (200-acre) informal woodland garden with a magnificent collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, and is often considered one of the finest gardens in the world. I personally feel that any garden can look good in the spring, but not so easy when summer fades. Exbury gardens are the perfect example of how a garden can look good, no matter what the season. Exbury holds the national collection of Nyssa (tupelo tree) which are highly prized for the spectacular autumn leaf colours, which change from glossy green to fiery reds.

You only have to say the words “Japanese Maple” and immediately we are all familiar with the soft delicate leaves allied with these beautiful trees. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Japanese maples (Acers) are not utilized in gardens for their spectacular autumn colours. One of my favourite Japanese maples is Acer ‘Garnet’ which changes from green to beautiful shades of red when triggered by autumn frost. Once again this tree is often over looked or not even stocked in many garden centres, and this is simply down to customers not willing to plant a plain green tree.

I’m always going on about how you should visit the garden centre on a seasonal basis, and autumn is no exception where you can choose from a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours ready for planting now.

Trees I recommend you plant for autumn colour: Mountain Ash (Sorbus) a true all-rounder spring blossom, autumn leaf colour, followed by berries for attracting the birds. Sweet gum tree (Liquidambar) the leaves look very similar to the maple trees, but the leaves are waxy and tough. As the bark matures it takes on deep fissures which give this tree a unique look that stands out from the crowd. But once again this tree is a firework of colour before autumn leaf fall. Contrary to what you might think, the Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) is a relatively fast growing tree when compared to many hard wood trees. 10-year-old tree can be 5-6 m (15-20 ft) tall. Green leaves during summer which turn hot reds in autumn, hence the common name red oaks.

To do list:

1. Stop feeding plants in the garden and planted containers, and especially plants that are starting to loose their leaves as these are going into hibernation for the winter, therefore a waste of money and bad for the environment in fertiliser run off. Tip: When planting new trees and shrubs incorporate farmyard manure or well rotted compost. Any organic matter added to soils helps retain vital moisture and gives a low release of nutrients.

2. Now is the time to take Semi-ripe cuttings. Tip: Semi-ripe cutting are taken from current seasons growth that’s started to harden up, but has not become too hard. It’s the ideal time to take cuttings of Lavenders, Geraniums (Pelargoniums), Penstemons or any perennials that perished last winter.

3. Now is the time to think about storing September harvest. Tip: Root crops like beetroot, carrots, parsnips and turnips will keep in the ground until they are required. Cover with a thick layer of straw to prevent frost damage or alternatively remove from soil and store in a frost free garage/shed in damp peat or sand

By Eamonn Wall